[OS X TeX] Very good introduction IMHO

Bruno Voisin bvoisin at mac.com
Thu May 6 02:43:24 EDT 2004


Given I wholeheartedly agree with the request "Can we please let [the] 
thread ["TeX is not for the faint of heart"] die?", I am posting this 
under a new subject.

I am just willing to emphasize how good is IMHO the introductory text 
proposed by Rebecca Weber (quoted below). It would be a pity to let it 
go unnoticed among the deluge of mails from the above thread. I wish I 
had such an introduction when I discovered TeX the hard way, with only 
a background in MacWrite II and Expressionist, a box containing the 
Textures floppies, a copy of the TeXbook, no internet connection and 
nobody to get help from.

Bruno Voisin

Le 5 mai 04, à 18:15, Rebecca Weber a écrit :

> A note on what's below: words which are preceded and followed by 
> underscores are meant to be underlined or italicized as vocabulary 
> terms.  Everything else is meant to be read verbatim.  It includes 
> html commands, so if your mail reader is html-enabled you might have 
> some confusion.  The three major lacks in this explanation are a list 
> of reference books, a description of where you can go to get programs, 
> and some small, non-comprehensive sample files (all of which exist 
> elsewhere and could easily be incorporated).  It might also benefit 
> from a glossary (which could include terms not used in the 
> explanation, like most of those in Mahakk's list).
> Just my two cents,
> Rebecca
> _________________
> What is TeX?
> TeX (here used as a catch-all term for all the various kinds of TeX, 
> such as LaTeX) is a _markup_language_, a system of typesetting where 
> you write plain unformatted text (as you might in TextEdit or 
> Notepad), and that is turned into pretty formatted text (as you might 
> see in Word, only prettier) by a _compiler_.  That is, instead of 
> selecting "italics" from a menu and seeing your text instantly 
> italicized, you type a command that will be interpreted by the 
> compiler as "put this text into italics".  Another markup language you 
> might be familiar with is html; if not, you can see examples by 
> opening a webpage and selecting "view source" from one of the menus in 
> your browser (Netscape, IE, Safari, etc.).  Choose a plain page 
> (without a lot of graphics, forms, or frames) and compare what you see 
> in the original browser to what you see in the source window -- the 
> source file has a lot of text that does not appear in the webpage.  
> The source file has been _rendered_ into the webpage image, using the 
> information from the extra text, or _commands_.  In TeX, we speak of a 
> text file being _compiled_, turned into a pdf, dvi, or ps file.  The 
> first kind you're probably familiar with from web browsing; the other 
> two are just different formats which we can get into later.
> Now some examples, comparing to html:
> * To begin and end a webpage, you use the commands <html> and </html>. 
>  To begin and end a TeX document, you use \begin{document} and 
> \end{document}.  TeX has more options than html, though, so you will 
> also have to include some information before the \begin{document} to 
> tell the program which options you're exercising.  In particular, you 
> must include the command \documentclass{classname}, where classname is 
> replaced by the kind of document you want to make: article, book, 
> letter,... the list goes on and is added to regularly.
> * To italicize in html, you enclose the text in <em> and </em>, as so: 
> <em>this text is italicized</em>.  In Tex, it's a single command with 
> the italicized text enclosed in curly braces: \emph{this text is 
> italicized}.
> * To center in html, you enclose the text in <center> and </center>.  
> In TeX, these change to \begin{center} and \end{center}.
> If you've looked at some TeX files, your next question might be 
> "what's with all the dollar signs?"  Some commands in TeX only work in 
> _math_mode_, and you tell the program you're entering or leaving math 
> mode via a dollar sign.  This gives TeX the ability to double up on 
> commands - to give one command two meanings, depending on whether it's 
> in math mode or not.  An example is the dash: out of math mode, that 
> is, simply -, it is a short dash.  Inside math mode, $-$, it is a 
> minus sign and so is longer.
> That brings us to one other point: some symbols are used specially, 
> like \ and $, and so there are different commands that produce that 
> symbol on the page.  If you type a single \, TeX expects the next 
> thing it reads to be a command.  If you want a backslash to appear on 
> the page, that next command should be \ again: \\ will print a 
> backslash.  To get other special characters, you also precede them 
> with a backslash, as in \$ for a dollar sign.
> The best way to learn TeX in the beginning is by looking at other 
> people's files (as is also true for html and most programming 
> languages).  Once the syntax (way of writing it) starts to make more 
> intuitive sense to you, there are a number of excellent reference 
> books from which to learn more commands.  <insert list of books here>
> How do I get it?
> To use TeX, you need a "front end" and a "back end" (or "foundation"). 
>  The front end is the editor and viewer: where you type your text and 
> where you view the compiled result.  The back end is the program that 
> does the compilation along with all the information it uses to do so.  
> These pieces are all put together for html in the form of web browsers 
> (well, those with built-in web design programs, like Netscape 
> Composer), but for Tex (if you want it for free) you must download and 
> install them separately.  <insert instructions for installation here - 
> I'm biased toward iInstaller/TeXShop, which was very easy to install 
> and use; mention could also be made of WinEdt/MikTex for any Windows 
> users who might happen by>
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